Superman has appeared in various forms on the small screen since the 1950s and in all of his incarnations, it seems like the live action Superboy show is the least remembered. Was it some fiendish plot by Superboy’s enemies? Not really. Basically legal issues kept it from being released to home video or being re-broadcast, which is essentially the great mind wipe in popular culture.
I managed to watch the live action Superboy series a few times when it was first on in my bygone youth. I vividly remember watching it on the tiny secondary television, loving every second of it (back in those days you were lucky to have two TVs!). Then it vanished. I had a hard time keeping track of when syndicated programs were on back then and shows would often change schedules or vanish completely. Worse than that, no one I ever talked to in those pre-internet days had seen the series! So to say that I’m glad to see it available in any form is an understatement.
Superboy on DVD has had a bit of a tragic past. Way back in 2006 Warner Brothers put out Superboy’s first complete season. Because of low sales, they didn’t release the rest of the seasons. The biggest problem with this is that fans generally don’t like Season one, so the theory is that a lot of people who were interested in the series were sitting out the first round waiting for the subsequent releases that never came. But thanks to Warner Archive, they’ve made Season 2 available finally.
Warner Archive operates on a print on demand basis. You’re sacrificing super fancy packaging and extras for obscure titles that would otherwise not see the light of day, as with the case with Superboy Season 2.
While we are on the packaging of Superboy season 2, I’d like to point out that even though it comes in a standard DVD case it doesn’t have those ultra cheap paper sleeves found in some lower cost releases. Crom, I hate those. The best feature of the packaging is that it matches the look of Superboy season 1, even though that release was six years ago. Classy, Warner Archive!
Superboy was played by John Newton in the first season. Gerard Christopher picked up the reigns in season two. Since I have not watched my Season 1 discs that came in the mail after I got this one and my memory is spotty, so I can’t comment on whether or not Christopher is an improvement, however I will say he’s damned handsome… uh where was I? Christopher’s acting is a bit spotty at time, but I guess that helps lend to the fun campy nature of it all. I do like his bumbling Clark Kent a lot. It’s very reminiscent of Christopher Reeve’s portrayal.
Fans of the Superman movies from the 70s to 80s should dig this, because the dudes that produced those films (including the good and bad), Ilya and Alexander Salkind, produced this series. The other tie-in is that the Superboy costume looks almost identical to the Superman costume worn by Christopher Reeve if you’re into that look.
Sherman Howard took over the role of Lex Luthor and holy crap, is he great. I hate Lex Luthor as a villain. I get it, been there done that. Rich evil guy that can invent stuff. Howard’s Lex is much more interesting because he’s so insane. In the first two part episode it’s explained that Lex is different because he changed his face so Superboy won’t recognize him. He even goes so far to explain that his vocal cords were burned with acid so his voice would be different. It turns out he had his face changed to look just like this rich guy whom he murders. He then murders his best friend from season 1 to get rid of anyone who knows his secret. Funny thing is, he pretty much reveals that he’s Lex almost right away.
Lex Luthor is stone cold crazy in this series. He’s more like the Joker and therefore he’s a much more interesting villain. For example, after he kidnaps Lana Lang and forces her to marry him, he has the propped up dead body of his best friend that he murdered as his best man. Sweet sassy molasses, this guy is crazy! It makes sense that he’s more Joker like, considering Batman 1989 exploded at about the same time this series was on the air.
And with this being a Superboy series, Lana Lang as played by Stacy Haiduk is the love interest of Superboy, friend and quasi-girlfriend to Clark. She’s decent here, but one thing of note is this: I’m damned glad I live in this age. I noticed in one episode that she seemed particularly gifted in the booby region. One quick internet search revealed that she had indeed been topless and I saw the pictures which are right here (NSFW… possibly not safe for your computer). I can’t stress how awesome it is to be alive today.
Rounding out Superboy’s supporting cast is Clark Kent’s roommate, Andy McAlister played by Ilan Mitchell-Smith. Wow, he’s an annoying asshole at first. Later on though, he gets more tolerable and even likable at moments. This transition happens with a rather dramatic hair style change. It goes from one extreme late 80s hair to more cool guy spikey hair and all of a sudden he’s not as big of a jerk. His hair changes at least one more time before the season is over. What’s up with that? Fun fact: Ilan is the dude that played Wyatt in the movie Weird Science.
As for enemies, Superboy confronts a fair number of one shot made for TV villains. I hate when a comic book hero doesn’t face his actual comic foes, but even the one shots here aren’t that bad. And Superboy does go through Superman’s rouge’s gallery. Aside from Lex Luthor there’s a creepy Bizarro who looks like the old school Silver Age version. I was surprised they didn’t go with the Bizarro planet version maybe due to budget, instead he’s an imperfect Superboy duplicate, like almost all versions of the character these days.
Mr. Mxyzptlk returns after an appearance in the first season. I’ve never really cared for the character, but it makes for an interesting episode, especially when his adversary is the guy who played Jaws from the James Bond flicks.
The special effects are dated for sure, yet they are fairly impressive considering the budget and the time. If anything, they help add to the feel of the show rather than detract from it.
I was also surprised at how adult the series at times, what with the violence and near nudity on at least one occasion. I was worried that the series would be too kid like. Nope!
The quality of these DVDs are fairly solid. They’re far better than any bootlegs that were the only way to previously see the series and are probably much more clear than when they originally aired.
Overall I’m happy that my love of the Superboy series wasn’t misplaced. Sure it’s goofy. That’s what makes it entertaining. Frankly, Superboy is way more fun to watch than Smallville and not just because he actually wears the iconic costume. I’d have to say that if you like Superman, camp, or nostalgia you really need to check this series and this set in particular out.
Score: Three out of Three Super Thumbs